The records are a crucial part of Warwick's economic and industrial heritage and a testament to the entrepreneurial and engineering expertise of the local area. The company played a ground-breaking role in British motor design and sporting success. The archive's unique research value though is in the building of a brand and high quality marque synonymous with British style. The elegance of the design of Healey cars as well as the company's contributions to motor-racing and speed record breaking attempts are key parts of the collection's appeal. The high status of the collection and strong local connections will bring new audiences to heritage and there will be opportunities to use the collection for income generation activities, which will help improve the sustainability of Warwickshire County Record Office.
The archive includes drawings; business, legal, research and development correspondence and files; photographs; sales and promotional material; and press cuttings. They show the designing and building, testing and racing of various Healey models, and also highlight Healey taking part in long distance car rallies, endurance tests and speed trials at Monte Carlo, Le Mans, the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, and elsewhere. Other Donald Healey interests are also featured, such as designing wind turbines to generate electricity, and the company’s diversification into speedboats in the 1950s.
The project to catalogue and conserve the records started in June 2016. The completed catalogue will be uploaded to the record office online catalogue called Warwickshire’s Past Unlocked by the end of spring, 2017. Conservation work was needed on some of the records, including bathing to remove water soluble substances such as stains, discolouration and acidic compounds. Drawings were flattened or repaired where required. There has been a lot of input from volunteers, who helped identify photographs and drawings, listed press cuttings in more detail, and re-packaged and numbered items. A team of volunteers received training to record the memories of former company employees and Healey car enthusiasts with the aim of gathering 60 hours of oral history material. The collection will also be used to develop primary school workshops to inspire a new generation of engineers. This work will explore the key STEM educational themes (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics).
Promotional activity has included features in the local media, and a regular project blog. The highlight was a Record Office open day in September 2016, when visitors looked at archive material, watched film footage, listened to oral history interviews, and saw a variety of Healey cars parked outside – from early Warwick-built cars like the Nash Healey, to the ‘Big’ Austin-Healeys such as the 100, Austin-Healey Sprites, Jensen-Healeys and a prototype Fiesta Healey. Some additional funding helped to extend the life of the project beyond its initial six months, and further fundraising will hopefully enable the digitisation of parts of the collection. The project also led to further donations, including film and video footage, pit passes for mechanics at Le Mans races in the 1960s, back issues of the Austin Healey Club monthly magazine, and photographs and illustrations rescued from the company’s former offices.